If you’re not a dance-club habitué, you’ll be forgiven for taking Blawan’s Wet Will Always Dry for regulation late-2010s techno. From its maker’s background (a British DJ in Berlin, how novel) to the no-shit-Sherlock title to the six-and-a-half-minute (on average) tracks with single-word titles (so serious) to a sinister scrim as indebted to industrial as to techno, per se, it ticks a lot of common boxes.
But a funny thing happens on this album—in fact, a few of them do, which is what makes it sharp as the genre gets. Blawan never forgets that in addition to turning our rushing heads and moving bodies inward, which Wet Will Always Dry most assuredly does, this sort of music can and should also, you know, entertain.
Born Jamie Roberts, Blawan came to the fore at the tail end of late-2000s, first-wave UK dubstep. In 2010 he signed with the newly resurgent R & S Records (the Belgian imprint had been one of nineties rave’s key bellwethers, cf. this wall-to-wall compilation). Then in mid-2011, he burst out of the pack with “Getting Me Down,” a quickly concocted edit of Brandy’s “I Wanna Be Down” that wound up on top of Resident Advisor’s year-end singles list. But when Blawan hit back in 2012 with “Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage,” it was received as a necessary retrenchment, its gravelly time-stretched title phrase (from the Fugees) more redolent of grime and dirt, as things in techno generally were going, post-Sandwell District.
Of course, it was also a continuation—whatever its sonic grit, “Hide” is every bit as chewy as “Down.” But once “Hide” detonated—it’s now a DJ standard, seldom an unwelcome addition to the mix—Blawan retreated, issuing no new singles until 2015, when he established his own label, Ternesc, and unveiled a sound heavy on DIY modular synthesis, rather than just the boxes and buttons of post-eighties electronic hardware or their digital offshoots. The EPs that followed are full of masterfully made warehouse techno, cavernous and detailed, with a continuing delight in the uneasy and often subtle timbral shifts he dots the tracks with. You could hear him pushing the edges out to make them say what he wanted. Sometimes he was even silly.
Wet Will Always Dry is a culmination of Blawan’s ability to make a track seem bigger than the room, and also to follow his fancy while he does. It’s (italics, please) serious techno that refuses to take itself seriously—at the start, floridly so. “Klade,” the lead track, opens like a fizzy parody of early-2000s laptop IDM, its beats dragging, its tones like 8-bit approximations of a fireworks display, before the tones get good and creepy and the beats straighten out and take on a muffled, heaving quality.
Often, these tracks are built around figures that seem less like composed riffs than catchy fragments caught from the air, on the fly—the percussive motifs at the center of both “Careless” and “Tasser,” for example, seem to mutate of their own accord. On “Kalosi,” the central seesawing synth line gets tampered with just enough times—never quite when or how you’re expecting—to give its relentless drive a nervous gait, while “Stell” (along with “Careless,” one of two songs featuring Blawan’s heavily processed voice) plays endlessly mutating call-and-response between a skipping bass glower and wheezy neon-synth blurts.
“It would have been so wrong for me to do an album before now,” Blawan recently told The Quietus. The reason he made this one, he said, was that he was able to concentrate on it for two months without a break: “I get bored. My mind wanders.” That kind of hard stare-down methodology is a big reason Blawan will never be florid in the manner of, say, DJ Koze—he still makes serious techno. But like Koze, Blawan lets a lot more light into the big room than usual.